Dial M for…

Sy Foreman sat on a round, unpadded cushion at the Borough Diner. “I can’t believe it,” he said into his phone. “First time I’ve ever done that. I must have left it in the house.” After a brief pause, he said, “My knife, what else?”

One seat away at the counter, Detective Doulas Fisher cut into an egg yolk and watched it ooze yellow. He listened. His ears perked up when the man speaking into his phone mentioned the house address, 745 Webster Place. Pressure was being put on the police department to catch a serial knife-wielding home intruder. The situation had become particularly acute, since the last two occurrences had taken place when the parents were out and baby sitters were present. The police had few leads, but one of the victim’s neighbors thought she saw a stranger walk past her on the day of the break-in. The description matched the man seated near the detective. He needed to move cautiously.

Fisher’s record of screw-ups was legendary throughout the 90th precinct. A month ago, he failed to read a suspect his rights, and the man walked free. Before that, he tripped on his own untied shoelace, erasing vital fingerprints at a crime scene. 

After the man ended his phone call, Fisher wiped his mouth and shifted over a seat so that he was next to the man. He identified himself. “Mind if I sit down?” he asked.

Foreman accepted, gesturing with his hand. He applied a spoon to the hardened top skin of the chocolate pudding before him, skillfully skimmed it off, and dropped the thickish membrane on a napkin. “Nasty stuff, that skin. Now, what can I do for you, detective?”

In as calm and friendly a tone as he could muster, Fisher asked, “Did I hear you say you left a knife at the home of 745 Webster Place?” The fact that the perpetrator dropped his knife during the robbery was not public knowledge.

Foreman carefully stared at Fisher’s badge. “I did. Why?”

“Never mind,” Fisher answered. “Were you also inside the house at 30 Formosa Way on,” he paused to check his notebook, “the 30th of January?”

Foreman took a spoonful of pudding. “I don’t remember the exact date, but yes, I believe that was the address and January sounds about right,” Foreman answered. “It was cold. I remember that. Why?”

“With a knife? The same knife you claimed to have left at the Webster Place home?”

“Yes, of course.” Again, Foreman asked, “Why?”

That clinched it.

“I’m placing you under arrest,” Fisher said.

“What? For what?” asked the incredulous Foreman. He put up no resistance while the detective applied handcuffs.

“Breaking and entering, robbery with a lethal weapon, for starters.” His eyes darted between Foreman and his own phone. Fisher punched a contact name. “Chief. Fisher. I’ve made an arrest in the home invader cases. Guy sitting next to me admits to being inside 745 Webster and 30 Formosa. Said he left a knife at the Webster Street address. You know, the butcher knife.” “Butcher knife?” Foreman shouted. “I’m a mohel.”

Organized Crime

“There’s a gun pointed at your crotch. Unless you want to take your next piss with the help of a catheter, I recommend you take a brisk walk away and disappear into the restroom…” Jackie squinted at the guard’s name tag, “…C. Smith. What does the C stand for?”

The unarmed mall security guard stationed outside Crown’s Fine Jewelers swallowed hard. “Chris.”

“I’m Jackie. There are a lot of people walking around. Just act natural. We’re having a conversation, nothing more. You’re in the clear as long as you’re gone from what’s about to take place in there.” Jackie’s head leaned toward the store. “You took a bathroom break. No one will blame you for that. Nod if you follow me.”

Chris nodded.

“Good. You’re smart. What are they paying you, minimum wage to watch over a bunch of high-priced diamonds and watches? Don’t you find that ironic?” Jackie paused. Chris nodded again. “Here’s what’s going to happen.” Jackie shoved the pistol harder against Chris’ crotch. “After you walk away and stay away, I’m going into the store you were hired to protect and smash a few of those real clear and shiny glass display cases. I may have to smash a few skulls as well. That all depends on the level of cooperation I get from the staff and few customers in there. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but sometimes people get stupid or try being heroes and it never works out well for them. I’ll pick up a couple of choice pieces and walk out. Sound like a plan?”

“Why are you doing-“ Chris began asking.

“Shush,” Jackie said softly, yet firmly. “You’re a rent-a-cop, Chris, not a psychologist. After I’m gone and the real cops come, you’ll be in the clear. Just tell them nature called and that the thief must have staked out the place waiting for the right opportunity. I’m warning you to stay out of sight for 10-minutes. No more or less. That’s all the time I’ll need. And don’t tell anyone because if I find out you did something stupid like alerting someone. I…well…never mind, I don’t think you’d be that foolish. We good?”

Chris nodded.

“Good. Now, slow and easy, reach into your pocket and hand me your cell phone.” Jackie took and pocketed it. “Now, give me that little walkie-talkie thingy hanging from your belt. Wonderful. Now, disappear Chris Smith. Nice doing business with you.”

Jackie watched the guard disappear around a wing that led to the restrooms.

• • •

Professor Celia Washington stood before an audience of her peers at the annual American Psychological Association convention in Washington, DC. Most faces turned away from the large screen toward Dr. Washington. Enough time had elapsed for everyone to have read the fictional passage about a jewelry store burglary.

“All of our subjects read the same scenario as you all just finished,” Washington began. “Each subject was given two photographs, one of Chris Smith and one of Jackie. My team and I varied the photos. In some cases, Chris and Jackie were Caucasian. In others, they were African American. A different group saw a black Chris and a white Jackie, others saw the opposite. In photos shown to another group, Chris and Jackie were females. In others, they were both males. Some saw a female Chris and male Jackie, others vice versa.”

A number of graphs flashed up on the screen behind Dr. Washington. “We asked our subjects to select on a Likert scale, from 1 to 10, the likelihood that the security guard, Chris Smith disobeyed Jackie and sought help or assistance. The data are compelling. As you can see from this first graph,” Washington aimed a laser at the screen, “The results revealed…”

Professor Washington’s talk, titled, “The Racial and Gender Impact on Response to Criminal Behavior” kicked off the morning session in APA’s Social Psychology division.

If You See Something

The message was on a continuous loop, repeated every 15 minutes. Something about never leaving suitcases unattended, keeping suitcases in your possession at all times, and a caution about accepting bags from strangers. The message mercifully ended with, “If you see something, say something.”

Sam sat at gate 14 in Newark International Airport waiting to board an early morning plane to Portland, Oregon. He saw something, a woman in a niqab, her face concealed but her eyes uncovered. And Sam didn’t trust those eyes. He didn’t like the oversized handbag she carried either, but he convinced himself that the woman had to have passed through security, so hopefully she was clean. She appeared to have an unnatural interest in the other passengers waiting to board the flight. She seemed to study each passenger. Her gaze met Sam’s. He turned away.

Boarding time. Sam couldn’t keep his eyes off of her. There was something about the woman, in addition to her appearance that worried Sam. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but her movements were those of someone anxious. Maybe she just didn’t like flying? Sam thought about that. Sure, that was it. He tried to convince himself everything would be fine. Still, Sam knew that he’d try to keep a close watch on her during the flight until safely landing in Portland.

On board, Sam lucked out. He sat in 12C, her seat, 11D. Sam had a perfect vantage point of the woman and her suspicious handbag. She pulled a magazine from the seat in front and without reading, flipped the pages. On takeoff, the woman gripped her armrests. Once airborne the pilot, Captain Winters turned off the cabin lights. Sam looked around. Most passengers slept. A few read. The woman did neither. She simply sat, looking around.

Roughly midway between Newark and Portland, Sam saw the cockpit door open. Captain Winters emerged, said something to the flight attendant, and entered the restroom. The flight attendant stood in front of the cockpit door. Sam watched as a man in first class stood and waited for the bathroom. The pilot finished his business and the first class passenger began speaking to him. The woman in 11D seemed to take an interest. She sat up straighter and leaned her head toward the aisle in order to get a better look. Sam’s eyes were riveted on the woman. His heart pounded. He had a really bad feeling now that something awful was about to happen. No one other than Sam noticed. The woman calmly undid her seatbelt, reached into her handbag, pulled out a gun, and stood in the aisle.

It was time for Sam to say something. “Gun!” he yelled. “That woman has a gun!” Amidst screams and cries, Sam undid his seatbelt and jumped the woman but not before she fired off one round, striking the back shoulder of the first class passenger engaged with the pilot.

After an emergency landing in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Sam sat in the airport’s main TSA office shaking his head.

“Captain Winters is unharmed and the wounded man will live,” explained a Mr. Rollins from the Department of Homeland Security. “We’ll find out why he brought that nylon chord on board and attempted to strangle Captain Winters. Oh, look who’s here, our hero.”

“I had no idea. You saved us all. I’m so sorry,” Sam said after being introduced to the flight’s air marshal, the woman in 11D.




I’d be 20-minutes. Tops. I parked the Chevy in the heavily wooded narrow street and dashed into the lobby and up three flights of stairs into my son’s new apartment. After helping him navigate a couple of medical insurance forms, I was back on the street. No car. Gone. After less than 20 minutes, my car had vanished. A closer look at the sign revealed the following fine print:




Sons of bitches made it so that if you were unfamiliar with the area and not standing within a few feet of the sign you’d miss it. The asshole’s voice on the other end of the phone informed me that $200; cash only, had to be paid. He asked me the sign’s location, gave me his address and said, “You’ll find it.” Before hanging up, Mr. Customer Service Award Winner of the Year added, “$75 a day storage for every day the car sits here.”

ATM machine. Cab ride. I’m standing behind a woman at Sisk’s Garage. The lot is full of cars, from a beat up old AMC Gremlin to a showroom-new Tesla. The woman shells out crisp bills that were no doubt neatly stacked in a nearby ATM machine moments before. By the amount she counted out, it appeared as though she had taken advantage of the “Sisk Extra Special $75 / Day Storage Fee.” A worn King James Bible sat on the counter. It was opened to Matthew 7:12. A “Jesus Saves” sign hung on the wall behind T. Sisk. That was the name stitched on the oval patch of the guy’s oil stained blue shirt. A partially eaten hamburger rested near his grease shined fingers.

“I just want you to know, sir, that my daughter’s inhaler was in my car when you towed it and she suffered a near fatal asthma attack. If a good Samaritan hadn’t come by and seen her gasping for air….I’m just so upset by this. You really should make the sign more clear,” she finished and blotted tears with a tissue.

T. Sisk didn’t bother looking up. He took a bite from the burger, rubberstamped “PAID” on a hand-written receipt and said, “Shudda read the sign. Next!”

I stepped toward the counter. “That’s some racket you got going on here. That poor woman is right. The fine print on that sign is impossible to read. I can’t imagine how many cars must get towed here day and night.”

T. Sisk jammed four normal bites worth of hamburger and bun into his mouth. He barely chewed and then swallowed. “Make and model car,” he responded. He looked at his watch. It had a cracked crystal. The slob could afford a new Rolex. I bit my tongue, paid and turned for the door. The fellow’s expression on line behind me looked as if he had just swallowed a bottle of colonoscopy prep liquid. He dug into his pocket. I didn’t hang around to hear his tale.

A week later under a moonless sky, I hammered a stick into the ground at the entrance of the narrow street and affixed the following sign:




I added some fine, very fine print:




I illegally parked the Chevy and bee lined it into the apartment lobby. The wait was a short one. I had the perfect vantage point when minutes later I watched the tow truck’s two front tires blowout.

“Jesus still loves you, T. Sisk,” I said to no one.


“Nicky, stop it. I’m not your kid sister any more. I know you love me and want what’s best for me. Look at me. I’m a grown woman and I’m more than capable of making my own decisions.”

“But, I don’t trust that asshole Maurice…”


Denny and Lenny were twins. Not identical. Both shopped at the Oversized Man stores, but Denny liked to wear his shirts tight. He wore a size 2XL. Lenny, on the other hand, was partial to a more traditional fit, a 3XL. Each had blacksmith-like hands pressed on the shoulders of a bound and gagged the cowardly asshole named Maurice.

“I love this time of year. Who doesn’t? Well, I guess the turkeys don’t. Do you know how many turkeys are killed in the weeks prior to Thanksgiving?” It was Nick, the fourth man in the deserted medical supplies warehouse, who had raised the question. “Relax guys, it’s a rhetorical question. I’ve got the answer, 45 million turkeys. That’s a hell of a lot of dead bird. But, that’s why I love this holiday, the food, the family get-togethers, all of that stuff. Denny, what’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish?”

Without hesitation, “Drumsticks! Guess I’m a leg man through and through.” He laughed, but kept the pressure on Maurice’s shoulder.

“How ‘bout you, Lenny?”

The twin hesitated, his voice incongruously high. “I guess it’s the stuffing, but it has to be the canned stuff. I can’t stand that homemade shit.”

Nick stared down at Maurice. The latter’s eyes were wide. He fought to control his bladder. “I have a different question for you, Maurice. What does ‘No’ mean?”

Maurice lost the battle. A growing wet stain expanded over the crotch area of his slacks.

“Let me be more specific. When my sister said ‘No’ to you last night, what the fuck did you think she meant? Exactly what part of ‘No’ didn’t you understand?” Maurice squeezed his eyes shut. Nick continued in a soothed tone, “These are also rhetorical questions, like the turkey question. I’m not looking for answers, ‘cause I already know…no means no! Simple shit.”

Nick head-gestured to Denny who temporarily removed his grip on Maurice. Denny undid Maurice’s belt, pants button and zipper. His trousers dropped toward the cold cement floor like a free-falling elevator. Nick pulled two latex gloves from his pocket and twisted them onto his hands. “Oh shit. Look at you. And last night you were such a tough guy. Tut…tut. Wet yourself? Don’t be ashamed. No sir. Happens to the best of us. Shit, that’s even happened to me…when I was three! You know, Maurice, that’s the last piss you’re going to take for the next couple of days. See, this warehouse is closed for the long Thanksgiving vacation.” Nick pulled a tube of Strong Arm Glue from his shirt pocket, opened it, and squeezed half the tube’s contents onto gloved fingers. He applied the glue all over the head of Maurice’s penis. He smoothed the edges of the application as if he had put the finishing touches on handmade pottery. He was satisfied, stood back and admired his handiwork. He looked at the tube and squinted. “Says here the official glue of the NFL. Perfect. My sister told me you’re a big Cowboys fan. This’ll be like a double reverse…enema. It’s 100% waterproof, amazingly strong, and dries to form a perfect sealant. There’s even a warning about adherence to human flesh, although it doesn’t specifically address the dick area. Shit works on everything. And, it’s unaffected by temperature and dries in minutes. That’s great, given the lack of heat in this place and the fact that three of us have to get out of here and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with our families.” He turned toward Denny and Lenny. “Let’s go.”

The twin brothers double-checked Maurice’s bindings, including the handcuffs used to secure him to a large forklift. Nick pulled from a rack a sealed catheter and slid it across the floor toward Maurice. “You’ll need this come Monday morning when this place opens up and the workers find you here. Instructions on the back. Read ‘em carefully.”

“No…” echoed Maurice’s voice, but the three were gone.

Misfortune Cookie

Ralph got a kick out of the costumes and revelers celebrating the Chinese New Year. It was January 2012. He played with the fortune cookie in his jacket pocket. His crooked smile evaporated. Fat Hungs was crowded, always was. Ralph sat in a back table adjacent to the swinging kitchen doors. He remembered the days when he ate all of the General Tso’s chicken his stomach could handle without a care in the world. Now, with a fork he stabbed at the plate of steamed broccoli and brown rice. Under his breath he cursed his doctor and nagging wife. But the vision at a round table across the restaurant was more distasteful than his tasteless dinner. Big Benny Rollins’s thick lips were greased and shiny from the huge plate of spare ribs from which he gorged. In between ripping meat from the bone, Benny stuffed fried egg rolls and shrimp tempura down his talkative throat. He sat with a woman Ralph didn’t recognize. Probably talking bullshit Ralph thought. Maybe Benny was enlightening her on how he spilled his obese guts to a couple of ambitious federal investigators, thereby shutting down what Ralph and his boss, and his bosses’ boss perceived to be an extremely lucrative and legitimate business.

The parade outside grew bigger and louder. The face of Benny grew shinier and greasier from a combination of sweat and fat. Ralph wanted to take a silk handkerchief from his jacket and wipe Benny’s face clean. Instead, he pulled out the fortune cookie from his pocket, stopped the waiter carrying a tray of tea and two fortune cookies toward Bernie’s table. Ralph removed one cookie from the tray, replaced it with a C-note and the cookie from his pocket. “For the gentleman.” The waiter nodded.

Benny’s thick fingers cracked the cookie. He read, “Happy New Year – Year of the Rat.” Benny looked around, the sweat beads more prevalent. He called over the waiter.

“What the hell’s the meaning of this?” He handed the waiter his fortune.

The waiter looked at the small piece of paper. He hesitated, then, “This is the year of the rat, sir. Anything wrong?”

Benny shook his head. “Never mind. Bring me the check.”

Benny paid and headed out into the crowded street. Right behind him, Ralph approached the cashier, paid for his uneaten meal, and asked the cashier about the year.

“The year of the dragon,” was her reply.

Ralph thanked her and joined the noisy crowd. Among the fireworks and the loud marching bands blasting music, no one heard the shot.


Scott Edwards sopped the remaining yolk with whole-wheat toast and peered at the early edition sports pages. It was a few minutes after 5:00am. Every morning at this hour, seven days a week, he was the only patron at The Sunrise Diner. Not this morning. He was about to call for a coffee refill, when he noticed a man in a wheelchair parked at the end of his booth. The man didn’t take his eyes off Edwards.

“Can I help you?” Edwards asked, regaining his composure and craning his neck for his favorite waitress, Diane.

The wheelchair-bound man was strapped in by a seat belt. He maneuvered himself next to Edwards. “It was too early to shave. I don’t usually go out without shaving. I’m sorry for my unkempt appearance. You’re Scott Edwards, yes?”

Edwards glared at the man. “Yes.”

“Chairman of the Society for Wheelchair Advocacy?”

Edwards nodded. “And you are?”

“Stinson. Sam Stinson. I was able to roll myself into this diner thanks to the ramp the society funded and built here. Thank you.”

Edwards smiled softly and offered his hand for shaking. “It’s my pleasure. We do a lot of good work in this community. I’ve finished eating, but care to join me for coffee?”

“Sure, I’d love a cup. It’s nice having choices.”

“Beg your pardon?” Edwards caught Diane’s attention and ordered two coffees.

“For breakfast, you had an entire list of items from which to choose. Eggs, pancakes, muffins, you name it. We can drink regular coffee, decaffeinated or a latte. I like options.”

Edwards’ salt and pepper eyebrows rose slightly. He began forming an exit strategy.

Tell me, Mr. Edwards, do you know Tina?”

“Doesn’t ring a bell. Does she have a last name?”

Stinson moved in a little closer and shook his head.

Diane brought two fresh mugs of black coffee and set them on the table. Without a word, she disappeared into the kitchen. “I’m not sure I understand, Mr. Stinson.”

“I’ll introduce you to Tina.”

Edwards poured cream and dropped two sugar cubes into his coffee, stirred, and sipped. “With all due respect Mr. Stinson, I’m a busy…”

Stinson produced a knife. “You’re busy skimming money from the coffers of the charitable organization you’ve been entrusted to run. Word is we collected in excess of three quarters of a million dollars this year, yet the bank accounts show total balances less than half that amount. Can you explain it? Where did the money go?”

Edwards drank more coffee. “I don’t know what you’re getting at Stinson, but I don’t like it. You’re making a serious accusation. I hope you can back it up.” Edwards stared at the knife.

“Actually, I have all the proof I need. I have copies of the checks, you know, the ones that have lines for two signatures, but only contain one?” Stinson saw he had Edwards’ attention. “You discovered the banks didn’t care about second signatures as long as the check amounts were less than $10,000. It took you a while, but you figured it out. You’ve been siphoning charitable funds into some off shore account somewhere.”

Edwards took the napkin from his lap and tossed it on the table. “Enough! Get out of my way. I’m leaving.”

Stinson smiled. “But not before you sign a confession about the funds you embezzled.”

“And if I don’t?”


“What the hell do you keep talking about? Who the hell is she?”

Stinson pulled a printed document and a pen from the inside pocket of his sports jacket. “Tina isn’t a she. Sign it.”

“What?” Edwards coughed nervously. “Don’t bully me Stinson.”

Stinson tightened his grip on the knife and shoved it against Edwards’ side.

“Wait!” shouted Edwards. He sheepishly looked around the empty diner to make sure none of the staff heard. He lowered his voice. “Listen Stinson, I’m sure there’s been a horrible misunderstanding. I’m certain two rational men can work things out. Let’s say you and I put our heads together and come up with a…”

“Sign!” The knife pressed harder against the embezzler’s ribcage. “There. Is. No. Alternative.”

About Face

Two cops go into a liquor store. No joke.

A punk named Freeman checked his brain at the door. He never intended to hurt anyone the day he entered A&J Liquor Mart. His gun was plastic. Within seconds, the whacky cashier pulled his own gun, no toy, and fired at Freeman. His untrained hand missed badly. The slug came to rest in Officer Turlington’s junk. Family jewels splattered over the black and white tiles. Then the stupid jerk of a clerk fainted. Freeman cleaned out the till then walked over to the bloodied officer and took the cop’s gun.

Turlington’s partner, Frank, a year and a half from retirement, swung around the rum aisle and pointed his weapon at Freeman. “Don’t move!” Frank the cop walked slowly toward Freeman. “Drop the gun!” The officer shifted his eyes momentarily toward his fallen partner. Mistake. Freeman squeezed one shot from Turlington’s gun. Exit Frank. Freeman bent down inches from Turlington’s pained face. “Listen Dick-less, they might pin your dead partner’s killing on you. Hell, your gun is the murder weapon. You two cops picked the wrong day to booze shop.”


     Max’s Mask and Costume offered sophisticated high tech costumes and masks, often times costing three figures or more. Retired Patrolman Turlington rolled his wheelchair into Max’s shop and weaved himself around the excited kids. Max waived the disabled former cop into the back room.

The workbench was covered with clay, sculpting tools, slush latex, paints, and varnish. Max grabbed a mask from among the mess, held it up, and thrust it forward toward Turlington. “I’ve been working on this nonstop for you. I tossed out the first couple of attempts, but I really like this one. Whaddya think?” Max asked.

“It’s a good thing I’m sitting! Max, you’re a magician! This is scary good!” a giddy Turlington said. “What do I owe you?”

Max headed for the door. “Owe? For what? You were never here for a mask I never made.”


     Freeman got 10 years for robbery. They couldn’t prove he killed Frank. He was out in half the time for good behavior. He found religion, started over, and settled down with his new family in a little ranch on a tree lined street less than 10 miles from the liquor store.

The air was crisp and clear, the sky cloudless, perfect weather for October 31. Number 12 Pleasant Way was decked out with fake gravesites on a manicured front lawn sporting several mummy statues. The front porch housed a couple of hanging witches on broomsticks as well as three pumpkins. It was a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Freeman was in the living room reading a magazine when he noticed out of the corner of his eye a wheelchair on the front porch. His son opened the door and offered a tray full of goodies. He saw a police uniform and a big smile crossed his young face.

“I’ll take a red one, please,” the handicapped man said softly. The child opened the door and handed him the cherry-flavored sweet. “Is your father home?”

“Daddy, there is a policeman at the front door and he wants to see you.”

Freeman was already on his way when he got a good look at the man in the wheelchair. Freeman heard two familiar words. “Don’t move!” He froze with a chill that could have put an end to global warming. It wasn’t the gun that sent Freeman’s heart pumping like a gasoline tank filling a parched SUV. He was looking into the face of the man he had killed those many years ago, a lifetime ago.

“This isn’t possible,” Freeman gurgled.

The bullet was fired in an upward trajectory toward Freeman’s crotch. In an instant, the Freemans had the scariest Halloween decorations in the neighborhood.


I watched…

my father mount the Purple Heart awarded him on our den wall.

dad struggle with his left eye, the right remained in a paddy field thousands of miles away.

as my hero fulfilled a dream of owning a business, Arrow Gas and Lube, a neighborhood service station that was as big a part of the town’s fabric as the crooked local politicians.

the man year after year work 12-hour days, 7-days a week to provide for my mother and me.

the futility as he tried removing decades of hardened grease embedded under his fingernails with a coarse, green bar of soap.

him lose weight and hair after it was announced that the mega oil conglomerate, Atlas Oil Corporation had purchased all of the remaining independent Arrow Gas and Lube stations.

him worry.

the one I looked up to and admired become scared for the first time in his life, although he never admitted it.

my father grow more and more suspicious of the smiling Atlas Oil Corporation CEO’s public statement, “We have no intention of changing anything about the way our newly acquired Arrow Gas and Lube stations run their businesses.”

my old man smoke incessantly, the greasy oil stained butts overflowed a crude ceramic ashtray I had made in kindergarten.

the long shiny black limousine at my father’s service station and a sharply dressed man enter the bay area.

as the man, the CEO of Atlas Oil, refused to shake hands with my father.

my father’s reaction as the man said coldly to him, “Effective immediately, we are raising your wholesale fuel rates 10 percent.”

my father plead with the man, and beg him to reconsider lest they force him out of business.

the man with a smirk on his face walk back into the limo and speed away.

my father extend himself at the bank just to keep the place afloat.

the same C-level gentleman return months later, tell my father he must keep the station open 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, and add a small convenience store in addition to pumping gas and the repair work.

my father cry for the first time.

the Atlas Oil Company terminate my old man’s lease.

another man pump gas at the center of my father’s universe.

the bank foreclose our house.


I watched…

the Atlas Corporation’s CEO closely.

him trying to save money by filling his automobile at a competitor’s service station.

the video I posted of him pumping gas go viral.

as the Atlas shareholders called for his resignation.

the media frenzy gain traction and steam.

the CEO’s publically broadcasted apologies, then resignation.

not one, but two women come forward accusing him of sexual misconduct.

his wife file for divorce.

a very public and messy public divorce.

his life spiral out of control.

a broken man take his own life.

with a broad smile as they buried the son of a bitch.

Oh, Brother!

Dan Byrne received the news during a poker game at The Round-Up. He turned his upper body around, empty beer mug raised in his right about to scream across the noisy saloon for a refill when he noticed Sheriff Beckley bearing down on him. The lawman’s look said trouble.

“See you a minute, Dan?” his thick moustache twitching.

With a collective nod, the players excused Dan and rested their cards on the pitted circular table.

Beckley put an arm around Byrne’s shoulder. “’Fraid I got some bad news, Dan. It’s ‘bout your brother…”

Dan’s shoulder, along with the sheriff’s hand dropped an inch. Hank Byrne was about the last thing the older sibling wanted to think about. It had been going on two years since Hank was locked up in a Nevada jail for murdering three residents of Laramie, in the newly created state of Wyoming. The victims were Jonathan Field and his young twin sons. The only saving grace was that the man’s wife, Mary, wasn’t home at the time. Tracking down Hank proved difficult at first. But, weeks following the rampage, he headed to some place called the Belt Buckle Saloon where he got roaring drunk and passed out. Prior to hitting the floor and cracking his empty head open, Hank had bragged to the stunned patrons about what he had done. He was arrested and jailed shortly thereafter. Dan made the three and a half day ride from Rapid City to Laramie to attend the burial and to pay his respects and apologize to the widow. It was about the most difficult thing he had ever done in his 28 years. He’d tried to raise his brother right, took him to church every Sunday, but without a mother’s or father’s help, it wasn’t in the cards. Hank Byrne was more than a handful ever since he learned how to shoot a pistol. It started with small critters when he could barely hold a gun and quickly progressed to humans. The Laramie killings were particularly unthinkable. According to the doctor who examined the bodies, the two little boys were murdered after their father, and probably witnessed his killing. This was determined by the fact that Jonathan’s blood had run down the Field’s slanted wooden planks and could be found underneath the bodies of the twins.

“…he’s done busted out of jail. Just got this here telegram.” The sheriff pulled a slip of paper out of the back pocket of his jeans and showed it to Dan Byrne. “We’ll find him, sure enough. U.S. Marshalls along with every other lawman in the territory are watchin’ for him. Doubt he’ll roam around for too long, but just in case I figure if he can get this far, he might come and see you.”

The sheriff was half right. No lawmen would stop Hank, Dan was certain despite the sheriff’s confidence. He was also sure that Hank would at some point pay his older brother a visit. “Hell of a time to tell me, Sheriff. I had three aces.” Dan tried to force a smile. “Got some business in Laramie. Be back soon as I can. Keep an eye on the place while I’m gone, will ya?”


     It was a rough couple of weeks for Dan Byrne. Waiting. He tried to go about his business in a normal way, but images of Hank drowned his thoughts like a whiskey-soaked liver. Reports of murdered lawmen from Nevada clear to South Dakota made their way across the prairie.

A pot of coffee was heating up when Dan Byrne tensed. He could smell the stench. “What’s wrong, Dan?” the woman asked.

“He’s here. I know it. I can feel his filth and terror. I’ll be damned if he didn’t make it after all.”

The door to the small ranch house flung open. The first thing Dan noticed about his younger brother was his teeth, broken, brown and rotted. Hank looked around from one to the other and let himself in. He was dusty, the hair on his hatless head matted down as if painted onto his scalp, his tan trousers torn beyond the help of the most skilled tailor. He carried a battered suede bag.

“Get the hell out of here, Hank!” screamed Dan. “You’re not wanted here. Do everyone a favor and turn yourself in at the sheriff’s office.”

Hank took a few steps toward the coffee pot. “Is that a ways to talk to your little brother? The little brother you ain’t seen in years? Coffee smells real good. Ain’t ya gonna offer me a cup?”

“Get out!” Dan was hot. He felt as though his skin could have branded a calf.

Hank turned toward the woman tending to a loaf of bread. “Sure looks good. And I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout the bread there.” With that, he let out a great hoarse laugh. “Yessir, its been a long damned time since I’d been me with a woman, ‘specially one as purdy as your missus here, big brother. You didn’t even invite your little brother to the wedding.” Hank laughed again, coughed, and spit a filmy wad against the wall.

Dan jumped out of his seat. “You son of a bitch. I’ll kill…”

With that, Hank yanked a colt .45 from his bag and pointed it at Dan. “Shuddup! I’ll kill you just as I’m standin here. You…” he nodded his head away from Dan, “tie him up.” With his free hand, Hank tossed the bag across the room. “There’s rope in there. Tie him up tight, real good, or things are gonna get real messy in this nice little house. Brothers should share what they got.”

“Do as he says,” Dan commanded, “You’ll never get away with this, Hank. I’ll   personally see to it that you’ll pay for this and every other horrible thing you’ve done.”

“Ain’t that sweet. I told you to shuddup!”

Once Dan was tied and gagged, Hank sat down at the table and gulped down the coffee. He tore into the bread like a vulture on a coyote carcass. “Now, it’s time for dessert.”

The rabid human animal moved a step forward and pressed against her. At contact, the breadknife plunged into his breadbasket. With a sharp upward motion, the sharp side of the blade met resistance and stopped against bone. Bright red flowed like an oil gusher. Hank’s stunned face showed a brief sign of bewilderment, then a sickly grin and then nothing as he fell face down against the hard clay floor. The crunching sound was his nose. His rotted teeth, shoved back down into his throat, were too soft to make a noise. She left the knife, now dug in deeply, in the lifeless body and untied Dan Byrne. “That’s that,” said Deputy Mary Field.


     “Come back any time, ma’am,” said Sheriff Beckley with a tip of his ten-gallon. The three of them, Dan Byrne, Sheriff Beckley, and Mary Field were standing in front of The Round-Up Saloon as the stagecoach to Wyoming pulled up.


Before he was Hank Sr., he was a sandlot sensation at third base. Scouts for the Brooklyn Dodgers and nearly every other team coveted him. Hank Wells, eldest of 6 sons from Flatbush was the talk of New York when he finally signed with Brooklyn. “When are Dem Bums bringin’ up Hank? What’re they waitin’ fer?” That was before he got the call. Not from the Dodgers brass, but from his father. “Your mother is dying. Leave the team now. Your place is home. Come and help me run the hardware store and look after your brothers.”


It was in the genes. The uniform felt better than a custom-made suit. He pinched himself to insure he wasn’t dreaming. Hank Jr. slowly rounded the bases in a well-practiced homerun trot. After crossing third base, he glanced over at Box 14, Seat 1. Hank Sr.’s seat was empty. Ironic. In over two decades, Hank Sr. had never missed a home game, but he wasn’t present to witness Hank Jr.’s major league debut. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, down by 3 runs, Hank Jr. smashed a pinch-hit grand slam walk-off homerun. This was beyond fairy tale stuff.  The most inept Hollywood hack writer wouldn’t dare try to shove this script down a producer’s throat. This was really bad fiction. Fifty thousand strong couldn’t have cared less. They celebrated the unlikely victory late into the night. Not Hank Sr.


The sign outside the batting cage read, VERY FAST. Iron Mike swung its mechanical arm in jerky fashion, scooped a ball, and hurled it toward Hank, Jr. Whoosh! Thwack! Into the heavy hanging burlap and passed Hank Jr. before the 9-year old boy had a chance to move.

“What the hell’s the matter with you?” screamed Hank Sr., “Swing the goddamned bat!”

Whoosh! Thwack! Again the 100 mph ball flew by Hank Jr.

“Are you kidding me, son? Swing the bat before I break it over your head!”

The words were barely out of Senior’s mouth when the next ball sped toward Hank Jr. Whoosh! Thwack! His swing was a full second too late.

“You should be wearing a dress, Junior.  Keep your eye on the goddamned ball!”

Whoosh! Thwack!

“Step into it. Stop being afraid of the ball. Jesus Christ, I raised a fairy. Swing like you mean it, or would you rather go home and play with little dolls?”

Whoosh! Thwack!

Hank Sr.’s fingers squeezed the chain link backstop. He fed another quarter into the coin machine. “Five more pitches. Hit something!”

Whoosh! Thwack!

“What the hell have I been teaching you? Man up, boy. I’m going to make you a big league hitter if it’s the last thing I do.”

Whoosh! Thwack!

“Son, we are going to stay out here all goddamned night if that’s what it takes to teach you how to hit a goddamned baseball. Jesus Christ, I’ve never seen anyone so pathetic.”

Whoosh! Thwack! “But, Dad, I…”

“Shut up and watch the ball for Crissakes. Get closer to the plate. Bend your knees in there. Keep your elbows out and straight. Focus on the ball. Keep your head straight. Swing!”

Whoosh! Thwack!

A small crowd had gathered around the batting cage, watching the futile efforts of the young Hank Jr. A guy with a baseball cap and a stub of a cigar stepped forward. “Hey you!” He was directing his conversation to Hank Sr. “Leave the kid alone. The machine is too fast for him. Anyone can see that. Why don’t you let him take some swings in the medium speed cage? Wouldn’t that make more sense?”

Hank Sr. turned around. “Who the hell do you think you are to tell me how to raise my son? This is my kid and I’ll teach him how to play baseball any way I damn please. My kid’s going to be a major leaguer. What’s your kid gonna do? Dance ballet or play the flute? Get lost!”

“Suit yourself, asshole.”

Whoosh! Thwack!


Hank Sr., LOUISVILLE SLUGGER tattooed across his forehead, didn’t see the homerun. He was elsewhere.

Six O’Clock Draw

Daisy Bateman, her face half covered with a scarf, entered Parker’s General Store. She purposefully came into town on this morning because she knew it was Peter Hutchins’s day off. The last thing she wanted was to see Peter. The thought of it brought shivers. Daisy’s plan was to pick up a new coffee pot and get back home as quickly as possible. She grabbed the first pot she saw and walked toward the cash register. The back door of Parker’s slammed shut. Daisy heard footsteps.

“Be right there. Sorry ‘bout that. Quick stop to the outhouse, but I’m back now and whoa…”

Daisy froze. It was Peter Hutchins!

“Sis? Is that you? Why the scarf? It must be nearin’ a hundred degrees out there for gosh sakes.”

“P-P-Peter, you’re w-w-working today? I didn’t. I mean, I wouldn’t have…”

“Sis, what’s wrong? Is it Mary? What happened? Did something happen to my little niece? Oh, I had a feeling something happened to her.”

Daisy placed the coffee pot down and did her feeble best to compose herself. “Peter, dear, you’re working today. How nice. That’s a surprise.”

Peter Hutchins walked out from around the counter and gave his big sister a hug. “Old man Parker wasn’t feeling too well, so he asked me to come in and work. I could always use the extra dollar.” Hutchins took a step back. “What’s wrong, Daisy? Something ain’t right. Is it Mary? Why is your face covered?”

“Don’t, Peter. Please, just don’t. Mary is fine. I’m okay. Honest.”

Peter Hutchins was having none of it. After their father died when Peter was only 13- years old and Daisy sixteen, Peter began looking after his big sister. That was a decade ago. Their Ma had done her best to raise the two children, but over the years Peter continued to play the role of “big brother” and substitute father. Peter grabbed at the scarf and pulled it away from Daisy’s face. Daisy tried to hide the bruise with her hand, but she was too late. “Oh, my lord!” screamed Peter as he took hold of Daisy’s hand, gently removing it from her face. “What in the world happened to you?”

Daisy tried to take a step back. “Nuthin’, Peter, nuthin’ at all.”

“That don’t look like no nuthin’ to me.”

“It was an accident. Honest. It was Sparky, the big colt Jack just traded for. Silly me, no matter how many times Jack warned me, I bent down too close behind the horse and I musta scared him. He kicked me with his…”

“Daisy, you just stop right there. You want me to believe that bruise by your mouth is from a horse kick?”

Daisy swallowed hard. “It’s the truth, Peter. Please, let me buy the coffee pot and get. Ma is watching Mary and I’ve got to…”

While Peter’s hand held onto Daisy, he noticed blistering and redness on her wrist. He pulled back her sleeve, revealing burns and open wounds. “Daisy, you tell me what’s going on right now! I mean it. Is it Jack? I know its Jack! I’m going to kill that no good husband of yours!”

“Peter, please,” she pleaded between tears. “It ain’t Jack. Let this go. I’m fine.”

“What happened to you, Daisy?”

Daisy looked faint. Peter brought over a wooden stool just in time. His sister collapsed into it. “I’m so scared. It was last night. Jack was, well, into the liquor again. He came home full of whiskey. He accused me of all kinds of things. Oh, Peter, I’m so ashamed.”

Peter stood next to his sister, his arm around her shoulder. “Keep going, Daisy.”

“He said I was a terrible mother to Mary and a terrible cook. Said I couldn’t even make a cup of coffee. He p-poured hot coffee over my arm,” she struggled to get the words out, “and then h-h-hit me in the m-mouth with the coffee pot.” Daisy was full-blown crying. “He s-s-smashed the pot, and told me if-f-f I know what’s good for m-me, I’d buy a new coffee pot and n-n-not say a word ‘bout this to anyone. It’s all my fault, Peter.”

Peter Hutchins was hotter than a campfire. “Let’s git over to Doc Mathews right now so he can take a look at you. I’m fixin’ to do a little talkin’ to Jack. This ain’t the first time he’s done this to you, but I’ll promise you it’ll be the last.”

“No, Peter. He’ll hurt you. Please, for my sake, s-s-stay away from him.”

“For your sake, Sis, no.”

* * *

     The regulars were gathered at the Double Eagle Saloon drinking, smoking, laughing, playing cards, and just whoopin’ it up. Peter Hutchins pushed through the swinging double wooden doors and headed for a table in the rear, next to the bar. No one paid him heed. “Get up, Jack!”

Black Jack Bateman ignored the command. He was holding two-pair, Kings over tens. He flipped another silver dollar onto the middle of the table. “Raise ya another dolla.” Then, he removed the cigar from the corner of his mouth, kissed the dancehall gal sitting on his lap and asked her, but loud enough for everyone to hear, “Stella honey, did someone say somethin’ to me?

The other players dropped their cards and turned toward Hutchins. Stella stood, pushing down and smoothing out her dress.

“I said, get up, Jack!”

Bateman stood and faced Hutchins.  Black Jack stood six feet, three inches and towered over Peter Hutchins. “Now, what do we have here? My little brother-in-law, what do you know? Fellas, you all know little Peter, right?” He stuck the cigar in his mouth. “This better be good, Peter, you just cost me a nice pot. I have two…”

With that, Peter threw a looping right toward Jack’s chin, but Jack easily blocked it with a left and socked Peter across his cheek. Peter Hutchins went down hard. He looked up at Black Jack. Peter spit sawdust. He rubbed his cheek and worked his mouth around, opening it wide and closing it shut. It felt as though buzzards were hovering over the saloon. “You’re going to pay for this, Jack, with your life! Tonight, six o’clock, you and me, one bullet each, one man left standing.” Peter got up and dusted himself off. “Six o’clock, sharp!”

* * *

     Word of the gun duel spread quickly. By late afternoon, the small town of River Foot Run was becoming the center of the universe, an unwanted tourist attraction, a perverse coliseum for the morbidly curious from nearby towns and territories. Loners and drifters from parts unknown had suddenly taken up spots along the hardened dirt road that comprised River Foot Run. Women packed picnic baskets. Some brought along their children. By five o’clock, hundreds of people had gathered and the entire street was overflowing. Those who came later found spots up in trees and on rooftops.

In the sheriff’s office, Daisy Bateman pleaded with Sheriff Hank Hilton. “Sheriff, I beg you, stop this before it’s too late. Jack will kill Peter. Peter is no match for him. This entire thing is my fault.”

Sheriff Hilton reached out, gently touching Daisy’s chin. Inwardly, he cringed at the nasty bruise on her face. “Daisy, this is a kin matter. It’s not for the law. I can’t rightly lock a man up for accusations or for sayin’ things. There ain’t nothin’ I can do.”

“How can you say that? Sheriff, Peter is going to get hisself killed. Jack Bateman is a brute. If you don’t stop this, I will.”

“Now, hold on just a minute, Daisy. You know I was a very close friend with your Pa before he died, right? And, I remain the closest of friends to your Ma. In fact, we just spoke about an hour ago. There is one thing I know, and that is your Pa was very proud of Peter. He taught him well how to be a man and to stand up for himself and to defend what he knows to be right no matter what the consequences.” Daisy gave him a confused look. The sheriff continued, “What I’m trying to say, Daisy is that your Pa would not want me to interfere with Peter and what he intends to do. If I did, Peter would never forgive me and he’d never forgive himself. We have to let him go through with this. He knows what he’s doing.”

The burn on Daisy’s wrist throbbed and was causing her great discomfort. She patted the bandages the doctor had applied earlier. “I can’t let Peter be shot down in cold blood. I won’t let it happen.”

Daisy began to turn away, but the Sheriff took hold of her. “I’m sorry, I can’t let you interfere. I’m going to lock you up in the jail until it’s over. Believe me, Daisy this is the best for everyone.” With Daisy behind bars, the Sheriff walked out of his office and took his place just outside his office. Daisy was screaming, but no one among the throngs of onlookers heard or paid any attention.

* * *

     At five minutes to six o’clock, the two men took their positions in the middle of River Foot Run. Black Jack Bateman adjusted his gun belt, bent his knees slightly, and smiled. He was impressed with the number of spectators. “One bullet. That’s all I got.”

Peter Hutchins stared straight ahead. “One bullet.”

At four minutes to six o’clock, Bateman dug his heels into the dirt. “It ain’t too late to call this off, Peter. There ain’t no shame backing out now. Folks would understand. Hell, no one will call you yeller or nuthin’ like that. Folks know I’m one of the best shots in this territory. Ha, supposedly even killed a few men in my time. How ‘bout you, Peter? Have you ever killed even a rabbit with a gun?” There was laughter amongst the crowd. Peter Hutchins said nothing. He stared straight ahead. Fact was, Bateman was correct. He’d killed a number of men during his violent lifetime. Peter was a novice when it came to shooting a pistol.

At three minutes before six o’clock, a man standing next to Sheriff Hilton gave him a nudge and whispered, “Sheriff, maybe this thing has gone far enough. Maybe you should put a halt to this here. No one wants to see the kid get shot.”

The sheriff didn’t take his eyes off the two men in the street. “They’re kin, Barney.”

At two minutes before the six o’clock hour, Jack Bateman squinted. “Last chance, kid. Don’t be a fool. You don’t stand a chance against me. Call it quits before it’s too late. I’m giving you one last opportunity. This is it.”

Peter Hutchins stared straight ahead. He didn’t move.

One minute to go. The entire town was at a standstill. It appeared as if everyone was posing for a photographer’s camera, but the anticipated blast would not be coming from a flashbulb.

bruceharrisBruce Harris is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type (www.batteredbox.com). His fiction has appeared (or will appear) in A Twist of Noir, Flash Fiction Offensive, Out of the Gutter Online, Pine Tree Mysteries, Yellow Mama, and Over My Dead Body!

Now seconds away. Both men facing each other in the street began slowly moving their arms toward their pistols. With the slightest movement of his head and a shift of his eyes, Sheriff Hilton looked up toward the old abandoned barn behind the bank. The slightest trace of a smile crept across the lawman’s mouth.

Six o’clock. Jack Bateman and Peter Hutchins both drew their pistols. Bateman showed tobacco-stained teeth. Experience told him he was a fraction of a second quicker.

A shotgun blast shattered the silence and Bateman’s skull. He crumpled to the street. Bone pieces mixed with tumbleweed. Blood dotted the dirt. Everyone, including young Peter Hutchins, turned their heads toward the direction from which the blast had come. They all stared at the upper window of the red barn, the same site Sheriff Hilton had looked at seconds prior. There, holding a smoldering shotgun was Ma Hutchins. She tossed the weapon down into a pile of hay. “Jack Bateman, you’re a vile beast. You got my baby girl pregnant,” she said to no one but herself. “You had you a shotgun wedding. Now, you got you a shotgun death!”